I went grocery shopping the other day.
This may sound like a normal occurrence for an average person, but you must understand, I am neither normal or average. I’m also the kind of person who would rather perish than leave my house. Whether this is the result of introversion or an allergic reaction to people, no one knows, but my only social outlets are as follows:
Beyond this, I’m perfectly happy to hunker down in a corner of my room with my laptop and a nest of blankets, never to step foot in the outside world unless extreme necessity demand it. (Like the apocalypse.)
As it turns out, bread is on par with the apocalypse.
My dad likes a weird specialty bread made from the recipe in Ezekiel 4:9. He likes it so much that he ate all we had and then wanted more. After being reminded of his undying love for the weird Ezekiel bread every day for an entire week, I, being a daughter of compassion, took pity on him. In a temporary leave of senses, I dragged myself from the musty cave of my existence and we went to buy bread.
Nothing in the world should be simpler than buying bread. Even the words scream simplicity. Buying bread is the quintessential Simple Thing.™
Not in my life, at least.
As I pulled into the parking lot of our local Walmart, I beheld the strangest sight in all my twenty-years: the absence of cars. Have you ever seen an empty Walmart parking lot? Because I certainly haven’t. I briefly wondered if I missed the rapture, before realizing that if the rapture had occurred, the kinds of people who frequent Walmart would definitely not be going.
(This was followed by the realization that I alone was standing in the Walmart parking lot, and what did that say about me?)
As I stared in consternation at the dark front doors, a shady looking teenager materialized from the void with the information that Walmart would be closed until six o’clock the following day. I know not where he came from or where he went, but I never bothered wondering why he was there. As we’ve already established, it’s Walmart.
Similarly, I didn’t know a Walmart was capable of closing.
Walmarts exist in their own Walmartish sphere of addled reality. Time runs differently in the grungy aisles of a Walmart. You stay too long and you get sucked into the void of fake Walmart cereal brands and employees with eyebags bigger than the State of Texas. One does not simply stand in an empty Walmart parking lot at a heathen time of night and find their access barred.
Yet there I was. The doors were locked. The lights off. The parking lot empty.
And Dad still wanted the weird Ezekiel bread.
The Meijer store down the road was the next option. Since I’m the kind of pagan who shops at Walmart, I’d only been to Meijer a handful of times, but it was enough to know that Meijer is big and crowded and frequented by the kind of abominations who put on mascara to go grocery shopping. But Meijer was also open. Thus, I went to Meijer.
Something to note:
I suffer from a dark and malignant blight called social anxiety. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, just imagine the feeling you get when you’re trying to do something you’re not very good at, all while a stranger passive-aggressively stares over your shoulder watching your every move and criticizing whenever you mess up. This is how I feel when I’m in public – regardless of whether people are standing directly over my shoulder or at the opposite end of the room.
There are other aspects, of course – over-stimulation, sensitivity to loud noises, paranoia of unknown situations, etc. As a general rule, I don’t like walking into a store (or any kind of public building) for the first time by myself. I have a list of reasons why:
- I don’t know where anything is.
- I will have to find things by myself.
- I have poor directional skills.
- I was terrible at scavenger hunts as a child.
- Someone might yell at me.
- If I mess up by my unfamiliarity with the location I will be messing up in the public eye.
- There’s nowhere to hide.
- My shame will be evident for all to see.
- Everyone’s looking at me.
- Someone might notice me blundering my way through the store like a lost unicorn and realize I’m easy prey.
- Muggings are a thing.
- (Did I mention someone might yell at me?)
Anyway. I don’t like going into unfamiliar stores by myself.
“But I am brave,” I told myself, squaring my shoulders and charging through the glossy Meijer doors. “I am fearless! I can do anything! I–”
–could not find a cart.
Everyone else had carts. But no matter where I looked, I couldn’t find a cart. They weren’t by the first door. They weren’t by the second door. They weren’t by the third door. And, tragically, even when I returned to the first door, they had not magically reappeared in my absence.
“Pffffffft, who needs a cart,” I said, waving off my incompetence, and went to find a quiet row of sweaters so I could pet the soft fabric and let my discomfort bleed into it.
Several minutes of soft-fabric-petting ensued. Then a woman barged into my soliloquy and I was forced to vacate the sweater aisle.
(I noticed, somewhat bitterly, that she had a cart.)
And then, oh joy! I saw them! Carts! So many carts! Multiple sizes of carts! All being housed on the outside of the store, which was fine – the only problem being I would have to pass the door greeter multiple times in the procurement of a cart.
I don’t like door greeters. Their bloodshot eyes and nasally voices feel like a condemnation of all my purchases, past and future.
Having already braved passing the door greeter once, I didn’t want to pass him again. I didn’t want to feel his judging stare on the back of my neck as I left. I didn’t want to face his judging voice as I returned. I didn’t want him to know that I had been unable to find a cart.
I stood in a quiet candle aisle and inhaled the scent of chemicals until I was too bleary to register my mounting anxiety. Having thus dulled my senses, I charged past the door greeter, grabbed a cart, and charged back.
Cart in hand, nerves melting in a puddle at my feet, and will to live rapidly diminishing, I set off to find the weird Ezekiel bread. Only one problem with this otherwise simple plan: Meijer is the size of a catacomb and equally hard to navigate when you don’t know where you’re going and all your confidence was stolen by the blood-shot gaze of a hapless door-greeter. I wandered through aisle after aisle, lost in a maze of canned beans and overpriced cereal. Everywhere I turned, a human was in my space.
I’ve (mostly) learned how to function in public regardless of my fight-or-flight instincts. (The predominate choice being flight.) I’ve plowed through my share of stressful situations, and as a twenty-year-old adult, grocery shopping ranks low on the list of ways to induce the fetal position. But occasionally, on a particularly ill-fated day, my brain randomly decides it Cannot Go On. As I shouldered through a sea of cart-driving urban soccer moms armed with sanitizer and their masked, screaming two-year-olds, my brain popped up with a “server.exe is no longer working, the program will now shut down” message.
That’s the truly exciting part about life with social anxiety. One minute you’re fine. You’re functional. You’re humaning like an actual human.
The next minute you feel like an alien hiding in a stranger’s brain.
And there I was.
In the middle of the freezer aisle.
Still looking for bread.
In this moment, as the world became too loud and too bright and too impossibly large to handle, I realized that if I didn’t make a quick getaway, I was probably going to start bawling on some poor child’s shoes. Definitely not an attractive option. An even less attractive option was leaving without Dad’s bread. I was faced with a conundrum: What aisle in a grocery store is the most suitable for a panic attack? I’d already exhausted the land of fuzzy sweaters, and it wasn’t as if I could ask an employee. I might start bawling on their shoes.
That’s when it struck me. At the back of the store, secluded from the clamor of holiday shoppers looking for cheap mugs and other such uninspired gift ideas, was a wall of fish tanks. They had goldfish. They had beta fish. They had weird little snails that no one in their right mind actually buys.
I knew if I could get to those fish tanks, I would be alright. The peace of the weird little snails would sink into my soul and calm the raging tempest within.
After a few minutes of wending my way through oblivious shoppers and fighting down the bubbling hysteria within, I finally made it. The aisle stretched ahead of me, vacant and serene and overwhelmingly chlorinated. The knot in my stomach began to dissolve.
If anyone had seen me in that moment (which, blessedly, they did not), they would have thought I was some psycho fish-obsessed fanatic as I rushed towards the closest aquarium I could find, cooing about weird little snails. I plastered my face against the glass and peered inside. The tank was completely empty, except for a single limp fish drifting with the current.
I peered closer.
As it happened, the fish was dead.
I blinked slowly, wondering if I just wasn’t looking at it from the right angle. But no.
It was a floating, dead fish corpse.
In that moment I envied it.
As I stood in the middle of the aisle staring at a dead fish, I knew I’d been defeated. I couldn’t find a cart. I couldn’t find the Ezekiel bread. I couldn’t even find a living fish. There was nothing left but to succumb to the final trump card all independent, able-bodied adults keep hidden up their sleeve:
I called Mom.
Mom, you must understand, was in Canada visiting Anna, and completely unprepared for a random call at 9:13 P.M. from her youngest child going into hysterics about Walmart and door-greeters and deceased fish. Mom was confused. Mom wasn’t entirely sure what her youngest child expected her to do. But nevertheless, Mom handled it like a champ, and somehow, despite being three hours away and in a different country, Mom managed to help her hysterical youngest child overcome the tragedy of the dead fish in order to find what she was looking for.
Mom just works like that.
And you know what?
Mom couldn’t find the weird Ezekiel bread either.
Yes, dear reader, this story is a tragedy. Despite me braving the wilderness of Meijer, mysterious cart abduction, and aquatic genocide, Dad still didn’t get his bread.
There’s a moral to this story somewhere, if you squint, but don’t bother asking me. I’m off to find a quiet carpet aisle where I can stroke the soft woolen fibers and let my troubles bleed into the neutral paisley patterns of floor decor.